International Day of the Girl: What it is and why it matters

Updated Sep 07, 2023
International Day of the Girl is on October 11. Former Canadian Member of Parliament Rona Ambrose led the global movement to establish the annual day. The United Nations formally adopted the resolution to declare the International Day of the Girl Child on December 19, 2011. Since then, it’s been a day to honour girls’ rights and promote their empowerment. 

As the saying goes, “Girl’s rights are human rights.” Which is to say that girls have a right to education. They have a right to live free from gender-based violence. They have a right to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health information and healthcare. They have a right to economic opportunity, self-determination and to have their voices heard and respected. 

When we honour these rights, girls have the potential to change their own lives, the lives of their families and communities, and beyond. When we invest in girls today, we invest in future entrepreneurs, mentors, political leaders, mothers, activists and innovators.   

It’s been more than 25 years since the UN adopted the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, a global agenda for advancing the rights and empowerment of women and girls everywhere.

An adolescent girl in Lebanon works in a field. She is wearing a head scarf
Girls are born with the same rights as boys. Yet, threats like armed conflict, climate shocks and the COVID-19 pandemic have threatened progress toward claiming those rights. Photo: Helene Franchineau

Why does International Day of the Girl matter?

Despite encouraging progress in some lives, girls continue to face barriers to full, equal participation both at home and in the world. Factors such as the COVID-19 pandemic, armed conflict and climate shocks have slowed or even reversed some of the global progress that’s been made.  

Child marriage

Each year, 12 million girls under the age of 18 are married. In West and Central Africa, nearly four in 10 young women were married as children. Globally in 2021, an estimated 14 per cent of girls were giving birth before age 18.

Studies show that girls who give birth before the age of 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their twenties. And babies born of child mothers are 60 per cent more likely to die in their first year of life than babies born to a mother older than 19.


At least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM). Most girls are cut before the age of 15. The practice often goes hand-in-hand with child marriage and contributes to a range of dangerous outcomes.

According to the UNFPA, shame, stigma and misinformation surrounding menstruation undermine the well-being of girls, making them vulnerable to gender discrimination, child marriage, exclusion from school and community, violence, poverty and untreated health problems.

Research shows that in some sub-Saharan African countries, 75 per cent of women report that their husband alone makes their health-care decisions.

Two adolescent girls in blue uniforms work together at a desk, writing in a notebook
In Kenya, schoolmates Sheryl and Sheryl work hard to push past the cultural disadvantages girls and women have traditionally faced, all over the world. Photo: Jon Warren


We know that educating girls and women improves health outcomes. However, despite progress made, girls are still less likely than boys to attend school.

According to UNESCO:

How girls around the world are taking a stand

Though there are many challenges ahead of us, International Day of the Girl reminds us to listen for the voices of girls who are reimagining a better world – one where they are recognized, counted and invested in. Girls like Nahomy and Dola.

A young Honduran girl stands with hands on hips, smile on face. She wears a pink plaid shirt and a blue and white sash.Photo: Jon Warren

Thirteen-year-old Nahomy is the youth mayor of Yamaranguila, Honduras. Already a child rights advocate and community organizer, she campaigned and was elected by students all over the municipality, winning twice as many votes as the other candidates. She encourages her peers to build up their community through service. Nahomy faces difficult subjects head on, campaigning against child marriage and teen pregnancy. And when children drop out of school, Nahomy goes with the municipal child protection officer to talk to their parents and help them find solutions.

“I want to be a doctor and start the first clinic in my community,” says Nahomy. “To me, being educated means that I can take care of my family and my community, especially my grandparents and father who have sacrificed so much to give me opportunities.”

A young Bangladeshi girl poses for the camera near a colourful wall. She is smiling and giving the peace signPhoto: Kate Shaw

Fifteen-year-old Dola uses her voice to advocate for other girls in her home country of Bangladesh. A leader with the Child Forum in Bangladesh, she and her youth colleagues have helped stop well over 600 child marriages. She has been invited to the United Nations in Geneva to speak on behalf of girls in Bangladesh and to share about the Forum’s success in preventing child marriage.

The youngest of four daughters, Dola has seen how girls are perceived to be a burden on their families. Her own mother was married at the age of 13, to a man eight years her senior. Dola is determined to change that perspective and to show that girls can achieve their dreams and soar further than they ever imagined.

How you can help girls succeed around the world

Two Indian girls stand next to bicycles. There is a group of girls standing behind them and they are near a school.Photo: Jim Kasom

Sponsor a girl
When you sponsor a girl, you increase her opportunity to go to school, to have nutritious food, to have water that is safe and to have her rights respected and protected. As a result, more girls remain in school and out of child marriage or forced labour. And, because of our community-focused solutions, for every child you help, four more children benefit too.

Send a girl to school
When girls are educated, their lives, the lives of their children, families, communities and countries improve. Invest in girls’ education. Provide essentials like uniforms, school fees, school supplies and more, and help girls rise above poverty. 

Give a girls' hygiene kit
Menstruation can be a barrier between a girl and her education. When girls have access to feminine hygiene supplies and health training, they can stay in school, stay healthy, and break down the stigma and misinformation that can keep girls excluded from community.

Give to the women and girls in crisis fund
Girls who have been denied schooling, were abused or forced into early marriage or sexual exploitation face additional barriers to a free and full life. By providing education, job training, counselling and healthcare you can help them overcome these challenges. 

Updated by Deborah Wolfe

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